Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction masterclass “Dune” is looking like a prime candidate to follow movies like “Life of Pi,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Gravity” that amassed numerous nominations in the technical achievements categories.
Though it’s early days for the awards season, the epic could be a contender in nearly every technical category: production design (Patrice Vermette, Richard Roberts and Zsuzsanna Sipos), cinematography (Greig Fraser), costumes (Jacqueline West), editing (Joe Walker), makeup and hairstyling (Donald Mowat), sound (to be determined), visual effects (to be determined) and score (Hans Zimmer).
Films with more than five tech category nominations can also have a good shot at landing a best picture nomination, according to the usual rule of thumb. Therefore Villeneuve could also find himself in the running for best director, and with an expanded lineup, “Dune” could make it into best picture as well.
But science fiction has always been a challenging genre for the Academy to embrace. Despite winning six Oscars, George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” still felt like longshot in non-technical categories.
The acting categories don’t present immediately obvious nominations, though Jason Momoa’s work stands out. As much as the world and social media adore Oscar-nominee Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”) and Zendaya, neither have roles substantial enough to appeal to voters. Zendaya is barely in the movie, which could be a surprise in the 135-minute film. Previously, “Parasite,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” were able to achieve Oscar love without acting noms, though they are the outliers, not the rules.
The odds are likely steep for “Dune” in the screenplay category, since films like “Avatar,” “Gravity” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” weren’t recognized for their writing. With probable contenders already emerging like “CODA,” “Mothering Sunday,” “The Lost Daughter” and “The Power of the Dog,” and still more to come, “Dune,” written by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Oscar-winner Eric Roth and based on the Frank Herbert novel, would have heavy competition in the adapted screenplay arena.
Box office results will also be an interesting barometer, especially this year with the pandemic still surging and Warner Bros simultaneously releasing the epic on HBO Max. Villeneuve has pleaded with the public in press conferences to see the film on the big screen. It’s a request which should be honored if possible, because unless your home has an actual movie theater in it, the big-screen version with its bombastic sound quality was an experience I won’t soon forget.
As “Dune” moves on to the Venice Film Festival, it looks clear that the impressive achievement will add plenty of spice to the awards race, with at least three tech statuettes likely in the film’s future.
“Dune” will screen at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals before opening in theaters and on HBO Max on Oct. 22.